University of Zurich
Institute of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK)
1-3 November 2018
Mustafa Akcinar, Aymon Kreil, Shirin Naef, Emanuel Schaeublin
Many parts of the contemporary Middle East are confronted with war, sectarianism, transnational interferences, uprisings, and a comeback of authoritarian regimes. This brings about various difficulties for ethnographic research as a practice of knowledge production based on the immersion of researchers in given social contexts and the subsequent writing up and publishing of texts:
Restrictions of access limit the possibility to carry out fieldwork. Local and transnational researchers have troubles accessing communities in different places. The risks of living there for 12 to 18 months (which is required for ethnographic fieldwork) include political instability and different forms of state repression. They are not easy to assess and can have far-reaching consequences for personal lives.
Writing is equally affected by these developments. Many settings leave little place for non-partisan standpoints, as narratives on the situation become arenas for competing claims of legitimacy. State and non-state institutions are often suspicious of forms of discourse that evade their control and hegemony. At the same time, political protestors may expect researchers to act as their spokespersons. This creates subtle or more direct kinds of pressures to write about certain topics rather than others or to exercise self-censorship.
The ‘destabilization’ of countries in recent years was followed by an increase of military presence and the division of territory into securitized (‘green’) and less secure ‘zones’. In such times, contextualized and nuanced accounts of the situation of different communities – which go beyond the narrow sphere of ‘policy analysis’ – are more important than ever. In theory, this is what ethnography at its best should provide.
The international conference No country for anthropologists? Contemporary ethnographic research in the Middle East explores the obstacles to do ethnography in the Middle East and take them as the starting point for reflection upon the role of anthropology with a view to the Middle East of today. To tackle the issue, the conference will revolve around four main axes, addressing the interrelated questions of:
Participants are invited to discuss these issues on the basis of concrete case studies. We welcome contributions from all theoretical directions and regional areas of interest. Contributors should send an abstract of maximum 250 words and a short CV by 1 May 2018 to Emanuel Schaeublin (email@example.com). Applicants will be notified by 15 May 2018 of the decision. Subsequently, participants will be asked to provide their draft paper (max. 6000 words) by 15 September 2018. It will then be circulated among the participants.
The University of Zurich covers the travel costs of participants.